By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
A panel discussion on police brutality, that featured verbal sparring between White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman and veteran journalist Ed Gordon, silent protests and heckling, overshadowed the celebration of media excellence at the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention in New Orleans, La.
Manigault-Newman, the director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison and the second-highest ranking African American staffer in the Trump Administration, was a late addition to the panel, titled “Black and Blue: Raising Our Sons, Protecting Our Communities.”
Manigault-Newman lost her father and her brother to street violence in Youngstown, Ohio, according to NBCNews.com.
After learning that Manigault-Newman would join the session, two panelists, Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine and Jelani Cobb, a journalism professor and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, declined to participate; Jones was slated to moderate the panel.
Cobb later tweeted that he learned about Manigault-Newman’s addition to the panel shortly before the event started and that it was not clear, if she would speak about policies of the Trump Administration. Critics of the group’s decision to invite Manigault-Newman, have argued that such strict guidelines for the conversation were particularly troublesome at a convention of journalists. A handful of activists and journalists, who attended the panel, stood and turned their backs to the stage in protest over Manigault-Newman’s appearance.
Gordon stepped in, at the last minute, to moderate the panel discussion.
“The event began cordially, but within minutes, it devolved into a shouting match between Ms. Manigault-Newman and Mr. Gordon,” The New York Times reported. “She interrupted him, accusing him several times of attacking her as Mr. Gordon pressed for answers about her role in the Trump administration and changes to criminal justice policies under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
In video clips from the panel, that were widely shared on social media, Gordon and Manigault-Newman can be seen pacing back and forth on stage talking over each other, as audience members heckled and jeered the former reality TV star’s reactions to Gordon’s questions. Though the NABJ convention was in New Orleans, the scene resembled a reunion show episode for “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
At one point, Manigault-Newman told Gordon “shame on you” in response to a question and told one of the panelists “just Google me,” when asked about her general work.
“I did my best to keep this as civil as possible,” said Gordon.
Manigault-Newman stood and responded: “Don’t be aggressive, ask your question, but don’t lecture me.”
Manigault-Newman said that she could not disclose, confidential conversations with the president, an often-used line by Trump’s White House staffers.
“Ms. Manigault-Newman did say she thought it was wrong for Mr. Trump to make those comments,” that suggested that police officers should abuse suspects, according to The New York Times.
When NABJ President Sarah Glover stood before the audience to explain the strict parameters of Manigault-Newman’s appearance, which did not include policy questions impacting African Americans, the groans of exasperation grew even louder.
In the middle of the onstage fiasco, several audience members, notably journalists Roland Martin of TV One and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post, walked out.
“This Omarosa appearance is beneath NABJ,” Lowery tweeted shortly after the debacle.
During this year’s convention, the NABJ also honored April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, with the coveted Journalist of the Year Award and Rochelle Riley, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, received the Ida B. Wells Award.
“April Ryan is a true trailblazer and truth seeker. She’s dogged and unapologetic about her pursuit of the story,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “In the White House press corps circle, where too few Black women have been given an opportunity to report, April has excelled and persevered in spite of the many obstacles she has confronted. Her work has risen to the top.”
A former friend of Manigault-Newman, Ryan has been vocal about her tense relationship with the White House staffer.
Lately, the NABJ has struggled when it comes to engaging with high-profile political guests during their annual conventions.
Last year, during a brief question and answer session with then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Black journalists asked the former Secretary of State about her email server and whether she thought some of Donald Trump supporters were racist.
The Undefeated’s Editor-In-Chief Kevin Merida asked Clinton, “What is the most meaningful conversation you’ve had with an African American friend?”
None of the journalists asked Clinton about her plans to close the wage gap between Blacks and Whites, economic empowerment in the Black community, or how she planned to ensure adequate federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In a statement about the dust-up during the “Black and Blue” panel discussion, the NABJ said that group has invited the White House administration to participate in the annual convention, for years.
“Omarosa Newman, Director of Communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, was invited as a panelist this year to share her perspective on issues that are critical to our members, and moreover, critical to the communities that we serve,” the statement said. “During her time on the panel, she exercised her right to decide which questions she wanted to answer and which she did not want to answer.”
The statement continued: “Moderator Ed Gordon asked tough questions and the Q&A quickly became combative. NABJ does not endorse the positions or the discourse by panelists or moderators at its programs.”
Lauren Victoria Burke is the White House Correspondent for NNPA Newswire and a writer and political analyst. Lauren appears on “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin every Monday. Connect with Lauren by email at [email protected] and on Twitter at @LVBurke.
Freddie Allen contributed reporting for this story.